August Weekly Notes (Summaries of Weekly Sermons)
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“What are you doing here?”
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 8, 2021
Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 19:4-8
“The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.”
I think being a Christian is quiet an adventure because it is a long trip toward God rather taking easy ways in our lives. This is why Christian life is full of troubles, obstacles, and temptations. Because it is a long journey, the believers can also be burned out time to time in their journey to the truth. Today, with the lectionary reading today, I want to comfort as well as challenge the people of God who might be burned out because of diseases, broken relationships, natural catastrophes, the pandemic, and all different kinds of troubles.
In the lectionary reading today, the passage introduces a prophet’s life journey toward God and the story shows that even God’s prophet can be burned out too. In 1 kings 19, a man of God, Elijah spends a night under a broom tree. He says: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” What is going on here? Elijah, one of the most powerful prophets of our Lord is laying down under the tree and trying to die there.
Who is Elijah? He was a powerful prophet, a man of God. When he blessed a widow’s house, he could feed the widow’s family because the jars of meal and oil were not emptied for many days after his prayer. Moreover, when the widow’s son dead, Elijah prayed to God. Then, God listened his prayer; the life of the child came back, and so he was revived. Just before this chapter, in 1kings chapter 18, Elijah contested with four hundred-fifty Baal’s prophets. And he won at the spiritual battle. He killed all of Baal’s prophets. He prayed to God: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the wet-offerings: the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even consumed up the water that was in the trench. When he prayed to God, God listened his prayer so that he could also stop a long draught. Indeed, Elijah was a powerful man of God! God listened to his prayer, God spoke through his mouth, and God showed many miracles through his life journey.
However, what is he doing today? Elijah, the man of God is in solitude. He is depressed and he is afraid of his enemies. After he got a message that his opponent Jezebel was trying to kill him, he immediately ran away to the wilderness. Now, he is praying to God, “my Lord, take my life, take my cup, I left alone. I am not better than my ancestors.” Now, he is complaining that he left alone, and he is afraid of his enemies. Now, he is asking God that he want to die. So, he is laying down under a tree.
However, when he fell asleep under the tree, the angel of God came down to him. And the angel gave him a bread and water. And the angel said, “get up and eat. Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” Even though he gave up and ran away, God fed Elijah. Not just one time, but at least two times. Because God gave him food, he could travel forty days and nights and could reach to the mountain Horeb. This shows that even when we complain about our situation, God still feeds us and God takes care of us.
In the next passage of the reading today, Elijah stays in a cave. And God asks him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah answers with disaffected voice: “I have been very zealous for the Lord. But now the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Although God fed Elijah in the wilderness, he again complains to God. The man of God begs God to take his cup away again and again although God fed him. For sure, the man of God who preached the word of the Lord and performed so many miracles. But now he is in a total depression.
I know we also have similar stories with Elijah. When I decided to take the journey to the truth, we were confident that God was with us in our journey. We prayed for our journey, we got through many troubles, and we lived with our lives with the grace of God every day! We said: “it is all God’s grace.” Looking back, indeed we were men and women of God. We felt that God was always with us.
After then, however, we sometimes realize that we are burned out. Sometimes we feel lonely and we feel that we are left alone. We often say, “I am sick I am tired, this is it, take my cup away.” Although I wanted to be a pastor as far as I remember, I tried to quit being a pastor so many times. For example, when I realized so many troubles in my youth age, I prayed to God. Every time when I went to church retreats, I had to cry every time. I prayed, “I do not want to have a life of prophet. I do not want to be lonely. I do not see hope in the church anymore. I am sick of church corruptions, lame church people, embezzling money, scandals in the church. I do not want to have a lonely life. Take my cup away my God.” However, every time when I prayed with my tears for hours, God gave me a comfort, saying in my heart: “Do not worry my son. I have a plan for you.” Although I often started my prayers with complaints, God made my heart warm. So, I could go further and take my journey further to be a pastor.
In Elijah’s story, although Elijah complained, God still had a plan for him. So, in the story, God decided to show himself to Elijah, Then, there was a great wind, it was so strong. It splinted mountains and broke rocks in pieces. After the wind there was an earthquake, after the earthquake there was a fire. However, the Lord was not in the wind, earthquake, and even fire. God showed miraculous natural phenomenon in front of Elijah. However, Elijah couldn’t find God from these miracles anymore.
After the great shaking happened, however, a sound of sheer silence came to Elijah. Elijah heard it. Then, he wrapped his face, went out, and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then, he could hear the voice of the Lord in a sheer silence. There came a voice to him again: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
Now, Elijah could not find God from many big miracles like a big wind, earthquake, and fire. It was useless for him. However, God’s voice was from his quiet inner voice. God was actually in a sheer silence. “What are you doing here? Jun? Mary? Michael? Ann? Wake up!”
We may be cynical about our situation. However, God does not want us to be cynical about our situation. We sometimes tried to escape from God’s calling even though God gave us multiple miracles and grace. Even though God still feeds us all the time, we often forget that we cannot live without God’s grace even a single moment. God cares about us and God still has a firm plan for us until we die. That is why we need to pray in silence time to time when we get tired. Sometimes, we forget praying for ourselves. We need the time of solitude to hear the word of the Lord in a sheer silence.
Friends, I hope you to listen carefully, what God says to you in our sheer silence and in our solitude. Then, God will show you something just like Elijah’s story. Even if we are burned out, God will speak to us with a sheer voice: “What are you doing?” God will wake us up and God will feed us again. God will say, “I will give new strength. New hope, new vision again.” Friends! Are you are burned out? Are you lonely? Are you in trouble? It is time to listen carefully. Listen what God wants from you in the wilderness. It is time to pray in a sheer silence. Then, God will wake you up again and feed you again so that our journeys can be continued. Amen.
“God’s Wisdom first: How to receive God’s blessings”
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 15, 2021
Scripture reading: 1 Kings 3:3-14
“Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.
The reading today is a famous story about the King Solomon, a.k.a the king of wisdom, the most blessed king in the history of Israel. In the Bible, Solomon is a complicated character. On the one hand, he is described as a great and wise King who had the heyday of Israel. On the other hand, Solomon is sometimes regarded as the one who brings the division of Israel Kingdom and who brings Idolatry worships in Israel.
Probably, these different views on Solomon originate from two different theological accounts in the Bible. The difference comes from the different historical contexts. The book of Samuel/Kings was written at the beginning of the exile; It was a time of repentance so that Israel people reflected on their kingdom to figure out why they had to face their terrible situation. However, the book of Chronicles was written after the exile; the Israelites were trying to re-establish their national identities stronger. So, it would be smart for them to glorify their past.
Although there are two different theological/historical accounts, there still exits many common narratives on the King Solomon. One of the most famous common stories about Solomon is his asking for God’s wisdom. In the story, Solomon prayed to God for wisdom to rule over his country. In the very beginning of the report, it says, “Solomon loved the Lord.” He loved the Lord so that he offered burnt offerings every day.
As you can imagine, this was not an easy task. Israel people at that time killed real animals to offer burnt offerings. They put their hand on their animals and they shifted all their sins to their animals. Then, they cut them down and they burned them to offer it to the Lord. Although it was an involved work, Solomon was so faithful that he could offer burnt offerings for a thousand times.
Indeed, the King Solomon was so passionate for the Lord. He was a hardcore worshipper; the Lord was moved by him. The Lord appeared in his dream and said: “Ask what I should give you.” Well, if God gives me the same question, I would think what I should ask to God for few days and nights. However, Solomon was different. He did not ask something for himself and there was any hesitate. He exactly knew what he had to ask.
In verse 5 to 6, Solomon first gave thanks to his father David because his father was so faithful that he could get his throne after him. He says, “now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child.” Here, Solomon confesses that the reason why he could be a King was not because he was smart or diligent. He believed that it was because his father was a good servant of God. Solomon was humble in front of God. Even though he is a king, he thinks that he is only a small child so that he asks for God’s help.
In this narrative, we realize that God blesses a person who is humble before God. In Christian faith, we don’t say we did it even though we actually did it. We confess that it is all God’s grace and we say God did it. This is how Christians witness God’s love in their life. The King Solomon knew that too; He confessed that everything comes from the Lord first. He first gave thanks to the Lord and he was first humble in front of the Lord.
In this story, Solomon was not just a humble man, but also was earnest and thoughtful. He was serious about his duty. In verse 8, he says, “your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people.” Solomon knew what he had to do. He had to lead his people. This was why he asked for an ability to discern what is good and what is evil. In proverb chapter 4 verse7, Solomon once said, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.” The King Solomon knew what was primary—God’s wisdom.
Solomon’s priority resonates with Jesus’ priority. In Matthew Jesus also said, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Solomon knew that he first needed to seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first. This was why he asked for God’s wisdom and God’s help first. When one seeks for God’s wisdom and God’s reign and righteousness first, other things will come together after. Solomon knew that. He could ask anything. However, he did not ask a strong army or knowledge, or money, or a long life like all other ancestors did. He first asked for God’s wisdom first. This made him different!
In verse 10, God was so pleased; God decided to give him a wise and discerning mind. In addition to that God gave him extra blessings. In verse 13, God says, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.” Once Solomon asked for God’s wisdom first, God blessed him a lot. Solomon literally received the biggest blessing in human history according to the Bible. The Bible says that there has not been someone like him before, and there will be no one like him later as he was so blessed.
What is our priority today? I want to ask: what is your primary wisdom? A wisdom to earn more money; A wisdom to defeat our enemies; Or a wisdom to live longer? In 1 Cor 1: 23-25, the Apostle Paul gives us a clue. He says, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” According to Paul, God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. And Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For Christians, Crucified Jesus is the wisdom of God. When we know this God’s wisdom first, we can finally discern what is good and what is bad. In other words, when we decide to be the disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we can finally receive the most precious wisdom of God and the power of God.
When we first seek for God’s wisdom, God does not only give us wise and discerning mind, but also all other additional blessings. Many people think that Jesus’ yoke is heavy because it is not an easy way to follow. However, if we really put down our yoke to Jesus Christ, our shoulder will be light. When we follow the wisdom of God—Jesus Christ, our life will be desired by the Holy Spirit. Thus, our life will be actually transformed by the Holy Spirit.
God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. This is why “I am freer in God.” When I was young, I could not understand what this meant. However, I was wrong. When I think and act within God, I am freer in God. It took a long time for me to learn this. However, I think Solomon knew that from the beginning; he was so blessed by God.
Now, we all know how Solomon could be blessed by God. Solomon was first faithful, humble, and earnest before God. And most importantly, he pursued God’s wisdom first. That was why he could receive the biggest blessings in human history.
I would like to invite you to the way of Jesus Christ-the secret way to be blessed by God. God’s foolishness is wiser than any other human wisdom. God wants us to be humble. God wants us to be faithful. Most importantly, God wants us to follow the way of Jesus because it is the wisdom of God. When we humbly and faithfully walk abided by the way of the Cross, our life can be changed genuinely. Do you want to be blessed by God? The best way is to follow Jesus, our humble King who was crucified on the cross. Look at Jesus on the cross who died for us! Follow the wisdom of God, for that is the power of God! Amen.
“Feed my sheep”
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 22, 2021
Scripture Reading: John 21: 15-19
He [Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Because I pursued both pastoral career as well as academic career, it took about a dozen of year for me to be here to be a pastor. During my long journey of being a seminarian, I could study in many great universities all around the world with the grace of God. Even though the common essence of Christian education is transformation, every school has their own style and educational philosophy. Probably, this is why each school has their own school motto which recapitulates their educational philosophy.
For example, in the case the University of Muenster, where I received my doctoral degree, the school motto is “wissen. Leben.” In English it means “living knowledge.” I think the motto summarizes their 300-year-old university’s educational philosophy well. On the other hand, Claremont Graduate University where I started my ph.d program has motto called “Multa lumina, una lux.” This means “Many flames, one light.” I think this motto also represents the school’s spirit as the home place of process theology, philosophy of religion, and religious pluralism. Duke university where I received my M.Div and Th.M degrees has a motto called “Eruditio et Religio.” This means Knowledge and Faith. This motto especially originates from John and Charles Wesley’s hymn, my two favorite historical figures. I believe that indeed knowledge and piety should go together to give a bigger impact to the world, and these two things are somethings we cannot achieve in a one day. We need to work hard gradually to achieve those. So, I liked the school motto of Duke. Although there has been many good school mottos, my favorite school motto is still my college seminary’s motto. The school’s motto is “feed my sheep.” The Methodist Theological University is the first theological school and the first-coed university in Korea. The MTU’s motto comes from John 21:18.
When you go to seminary orientation, people will ask: “What brought you to here? Or Why did get into seminary?” I think I did the same thing with my colleagues at my orientation. I still remember how I answered to the first seminarian question: “I am here to be a pastor as well as a theologian who feed hundred thousands of people physically, intellectually, and spiritually. I want to feed God’s people.” Soon later I found out that the school motto was “feed my sheep.” The school motto resonated with my God’s calling for me. This is why the school motto is still my favorite.
In the Scripture reading today, Jesus asks a same question to his best disciple for three times: “do you love me?” Peter saw all kinds of signs and miracles Jesus performed, and he always learned a lot from Jesus. And truly, he was one of the best disciples of Jesus. I bet he really loved Jesus. However, Jesus had to ask the same question again and again for three times. What is happening here? Why did Jesus ask the same question for three times?
When we look at the Greek original Bible, we can realize that there is a tension between them. Jesus asks whether Peter truly sacrificially love Jesus because Jesus here uses a word “Agape” to ask whether Peter loves him. However, Peter answers with a different word, “philia or philo” which we use for a word “philosophy (the love of wisdom).” So, they basically use two different words for a word “love.”
We can easily guess that Peter must be uncomfortable for this question because he knew that he betrayed Jesus three times. If I were Peter, I would also get embarrassed because Jesus asks the same question for three times. He must be felt guilty. Or maybe Peter was just disappointed when Jesus was caught because he might think Jesus as a political leader like other people did at that time. Peter was the one who ran away directly to his hometown to be a fisher again when Jesus was on the cross.
Peter in the reading today keeps saying, “Lord, you know that I like you as a friend. You know that I am a good friend.” Aren’t we sometimes like Peter? We betrayed the Lord and we kept saying, “you know, that was the best. I want to love you in my own way. I want you to bless me, but I do not want to follow you in your sacrificial way. I want to be part of this community, but not your genuine disciple.”
Well… my friends. Do not give up yet. In the reading today, although Peter answered cowardly, Jesus did not give up. Jesus replies, “feed my lamp, take care of my sheep, and feed my sheep!” Although Peter did not give any satisfactory answer, Jesus kept commanding Peter: “feed my sheep.”
In fact, Peter still had a small faith. However, Jesus gave another prediction in the last verse today: “your death will glorify God. Follow me.” According to church tradition, Peter was crucified up-side down and he martyred in Rome the capital city. Although Peter was not a good enough disciple, Jesus still called him. So, Jesus made him great and Jesus blessed his ministry.
Our denominational father, John Wesley also had a similar experience with Peter. One day while he was in Georgia, a German preacher asked him: “My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” But, Wesley could not answer. So, the preacher asked again: “Do you know Jesus Christ?” Wesley paused and said, “I know He is the Saviour of the world.” In his journal, however, he feared that they were vain words. At that time, Wesley was a pastor, missionary, and Oxford doctorate. However, he could not fully answer whether he really loved Jesus.
Looking back, I think I was also like Peter and Wesley. I experienced so much grace of God; I even went to a seminary to respond to God’s calling. But I often failed and I denied Jesus so many times. After Sophomore year, I had to run away to the army because I could not believe in the Triune God anymore. I thought it was bullshit after receiving progressive theological educations. However, I had to cry whenever I listened to Christian music in the army (for no reason).
I was one of two students who could get into Duke div for the first time from my college seminary in Korea. However, I tried to quit and go back home seriously to start a new business. I thought I would be more successful if I work this much hard for other businesses. But, God is weird, God gave me a full scholarship; I had to stay at Duke one more year for one more degree.
I was one of few students who could study be a phd student. However, when I heard that my ph.d advisor was forced to get retire, I again thought that was it. I called my mom and said “mom I am screwed. I am going home.” But, God again saved me. So, I could be an academic refugee to Germany. There, I could finish my doctoral program in a year with full-stipend scholarship (which is very rare in Germany). This is a new record for the entire Korean church history because nobody could finish someone’s doctoral dissertation in this short amount time. It at least takes at least 3 years and usually it takes more than 10 years. Although I had such a little faith, God kept making me great. Looking back, my life was full of God’s grace. Otherwise, I cannot explain my life at all.
Probably, I am still not trained enough to be a pastor. I still have unsanctified hot tempers and bad habits. For Jesus, however, it does not matter because Jesus still loves me and he did not give up yet. No matter what, Jesus decided to be with us. So Jesus asks us again. “Feed my sheep.”
Like Jesus did to his disciple, I would like to invite you to this mysterious calling of Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus asks us again. Your past, your personalities, your weaknesses do not matter. Even if you ran away to be a fisher again, it doesn’t matter. Even if you are old enough to retire or even if you are too young, it does not matter. This is because God still has a firm plan for you as long as you are still alive in this world.
No matter what we did before, God asks us again today: “feed my sheep.” God will make us feed thousands of God’s people. Although we are small and weak, God will multiply our ministries in strange ways. So, let us keep the faith. So, let us follow Jesus Christ! God will multiply our ministries like God did for Peter. Amen.
“Our Life is Our Message”
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 22, 2021
Scripture Reading: James 1:17-27
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget, but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
How can we discern who is right and who is wrong in the church? Some people in our church prefer to have high church liturgy, while others rather want to have some Pentecostal elements in our worship. Some people want to be more out-reaching, while others desire to have a safe and secure church community rather than being busy. Some people like to pray out loud and sing hymns passionately, while some want to pray in quietness and to contemplate. Even in our small church, I already see many spiritualities, diverse talents, and different theologies. Although we worship one God in one church community, we all have slightly different values and theologies. I think that this diversity makes our faith more dynamic and healthier. In Christian faith, diversity is something to be celebrated rather than being condemned. So, we need to promote and embrace diverse values and different theologies in the church. However, sometimes diverse opinions and theologies can create conflicts and disagreements in our community. Then, how can we reconcile one another with all different kinds of theologies? And, how can we have a unity in Christian faith?
Today, with the biblical reading comes from the epistle of James, I would like to talk about the reconciliation of different theological emphases. Our precious Protestant reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, did not like the epistle of James at all because they thought it was dangerous. They called it “epistle of straw.” The Protestant Reformers were Paul-line theologians; their motto was this: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia! They thought only God’s grace could save us. So, they highlighted justification by faith. They thought our salvation can be achieved thoroughly by God’s work, not ours.
This was why Luther and Calvin, as the faithful followers of Pauline letters, were afraid that we would read the Letter of James because they thought it would mess up our theology. So, they tried to get rid of the letter of James from the canon, although they failed to do so because of the gravity of tradition.
Unlike Paul and Protestant reformers, the apostle James highlights justification by works; he preferred to be an actual doer rather than just being a hearer. In Christian tradition, James was a younger brother of Jesus. Maybe that was why he was so silent in the Bible. Although he was an important church leader in the early church, people might idolize him simply because he was the younger brother of Jesus who resembled Jesus’ appearance.
Long story short, from the beginning, James was little bit different from other disciples. He was one of few people who knew and watched Jesus’s entire life, not just his three-year ministry. He was one of first four disciples of Jesus and he was a family member of Jesus. Probably, this was why James had the wholistic view on Jesus’ teaching so that he had a different theological emphasis, compared to other apostles.
As we read today, James argues that faith by itself is dead if it has no fruits or actual doing. Clearly, Paul and James have disagreements here. Paul emphasizes the inner faith of the believers in his letter to Romans (Rom 4:22-25), while James says that faith by itself is dead unless it has works (James 2:17). In the letter to Romans 4:5, Paul says that “faith is reckoned as righteousness.” He continues to say in Romans 4:13 that the promise of God comes to Abraham through the righteous faith, not through the law. He insists that God gives life to the dead when people convince that God is able to do what God had promised (Rome 4:17, 21).
On the other hand, James in 2:24 clearly says “a human is justified by works and not by faith alone.” In chapter 2, James thinks that Abraham was justified by works, not by faith when he offered his son Isaac on the altar (James 2:21). He insists that our works prove our faith (James 2:18). In his theology, faith is active along with one’s works (James 2:22).
Well… now we do have a question and a confusion: whose theology is right on earth? I believe that we can reconcile these two different theological emphases when we look at their pastoral contexts. In the letter to Romans, Paul had to focus on justification by faith. This was because the Jewish Christians in Rome relied on the law; they boasted of their relation to God through the law (Rome 3:17). At that time, the Jewish Christians in Rome argued that Christians had to get circumcision (Rome 2:25-29). In other words, many Roman Christians believed that they could be justified by observing the old law. As a result, Paul tried to change their thought. This was why he put emphasis on justification by faith first. Paul argues for his Raman audience that the salvation of the believers comes from inner faith, not from works prescribed by the old law.
Meanwhile, James puts emphasis on justification by works to lead his congregation to keep bearing fruits of faith. When we look at his letter carefully, we can find that James’ people are suffering from some kinds of trials so that they need the patience of faith (James 1:2-3 5:7-11) just like our time. In James 1:25, James reports that his congregation misunderstood the perfect law, the law of liberty which Jesus showed for the believers (James 1:25). In chapter 2, James points out that his people had a discrimination to the poor people due to the lack of the genuine faith (James 2:1-4). They lost their pure faith; they were not good doers anymore; they were just hearers. (James 2:21-22). In this situation, James had to warn his people that genuine faith comes with genuine fruits of faith. So, he says in the last verse today: “take care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” For James, this commandment is the essence of pure religion.
Looking at two different pastoral backgrounds, we can realize that two apostles had two different theological emphases because of their two different situations. In fact, this is why both apostles agree on that right faith comes with right practice. So, it is like a chicken or egg first question. In Christian faith, orthodoxy (right faith) should be accompanied with orthopraxis (right action).
The apostle Paul in his letter to Romans says in chapter 5 that the believers who are justified by faith have peace with God so that they produce endurance, hope, and the love of God (Rome 5:1-5). In chapter 8, he additionally says that the believers who are justified by faith called to suffer with Jesus and bear the fruits of faith in order to be glorified by God (Rome 8:17, 23, 30). Likewise, James argues that right faith needs to bear right works. Like Paul, James notices that faith produces endurance, peace and love (James 1:3, 3:17). Thus, James in chapter 1 verse 6 says that the believers must have faith first and not doubting (James 1:6); James here deems having a faith as a basic of the believers’ life.
Now, I want to ask back to ourselves. Which theological emphasis is right for our situation? I know we do have many different opinions in the church. (Somebody would say that we need more discipline for our kids, Others would say that they are already burdened. We need to love them more and let them be freer at least in the church. I think both were right. Probably, right political answer would be we need both and balance.) However, I think one thing is sure. That is that we need both right faith and right fruits. So, we will be able to discern what is good through our fruits eventually.
In Wesleyan theology, we highlight two distinctive graces of God: prevenient grace and sanctifying grace. In Wesleyan theology, prevenient grace simply means that God’s grace comes first. In the reading today, James says to us in the beginning: “Every generous act of giving, is from above, coming down from the Father. […] God gave us birth by the word of truth, so we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” Christians believe that God created this world with relational love. This implies that we all are indebted to that God’s love because we are all God’s creature. In other words, this created world itself already shows us that God granted us prevenient grace (gratia prima) which is universal for all of us. In a plain language, God’s prevenient grace preserves the order of this world, and it still leads Christians to awake, repent, and regenerate whenever they respond to God’s prevenient love.
Because God loved us first, the world exists; because God loved us first, we can re-unify with God; because God loved us first, our faith is possible. God’s prevenient grace upholds our Christian faith. Wesleyan theology claims that our faith is possible first through the prevenient love of God. Because we all received God’s grace first, we all can conquer our sins, bad habits, and old lives when we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, sanctifying grace is something we should pursue continuously in our gradual journey to holiness. John Wesley believed that there are two kinds of Christian perfection. One is something we cannot achieve in this world. Another is something we can achieve in this world. Because Wesleyan theology confirms that we can achieve Christian perfection in this life, salvation is not a mere future hope, but a present reality. This is why Wesleyan theology especially highlights the importance of sanctification and especially social holiness in this life. Here, sanctifying grace affirms that God works within us when we pursue holiness (Christian perfection) in this life. Therefore, God’s sanctifying grace helps, nurtures, and strengthens us on our journey to sanctify our lives in this world.
When I look at people fighting and disagreeing in the church, I feel like we all do have our own religions. Some people think like this, while others think like that. However, there is one criterion and standard to find out whether we are doing great or not. When we live in the church community, we must bear good fruits based on our faith. Work without faith is empty, while faith without work is dead.
One day, people asked John Wesley that how we should understand people’s visions, dreams, speaking tongues, and outward professions. Although John Wesley was an Anglican priest who followed high church liturgies, he did not stop people worshipping God on the street and worshipping God in new strange ways. So, Wesley said that God at least work for them in this manner because he had seen many people changed by the work of the Spirit from there. So, he said that we need to discern whether they are indeed working with God or not through waiting to see their fruits.
In terms of criteria of each one’s religious passion, we can judge one’s faith through one’s fruits and works. So, I want to ask for us today: “how have you been transformed within the presence of God? Did your faith bear some fruits? And, how much have you been changed recently?”
Even though we may have many different opinions and theological emphases, there is one criterion to discern who is right: “Our life should be our message.” I do not want that my message being vain words in this pulpit. When I preach, I also hope that my words change my life so that my life can be my message. This is because people will discern who is with God through one’s fruits. This is why our life should be our message. When we follow the teaching of Jesus Christ, our life will be our message. Then, people will know that God is working with us through our lives.
As the apostle James taught us today, works without faith is dangerous, while faith without works is dead. So, let us respond to God’s prevenient grace and let us work on Christian perfection in this life so that our life can be our message and so that we can be the first fruit of God in this world as apostle James taught us. Amen.